Russia Warns Negotiations In Doubt After Alleged Ukrainian Oil Depot Strike

Russia warned that negotiations with Ukraine over a potential ceasefire or drawdown of its invasion of the Eastern European country could be in doubt after Ukrainian helicopters allegedly struck an oil depot on Russian soil Friday morning.

"There was a fire at the petrol depot because of an air strike carried out by two Ukrainian army helicopters, who entered Russian territory at a low altitude," Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia's Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, wrote in a Telegram post, The Moscow Times reported. Ukraine did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russia's President Vladimir Putin, told reporters later Friday that the alleged Ukrainian attack could hamper further talks between the two countries.

"Clearly, it's not what could create conditions for further talks," Peskov said, Russia's state-run Tass news agency reported. The Kremlin spokesperson continued, saying it isn't the Russian president's job "to provide assessments [of the attack], it is professionals and law enforcement agencies that should do that."

Zelensky and Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson warned on Friday that an alleged Ukrainian strike on a Russian oil depot could hamper future negotiations. Above to the left, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a statement during the 58th Munich Security Conference on February 19 in Germany. Above to the right, Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18. Ronald Wittek - Pool/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Peskov said that Putin "was informed about" the situation in Belgorod, CNN reported."You know that the ministry of emergency situations was sent there. Steps are being taken to reorganize fuel supply points so that what happened in no case affects the level of supply of all necessary types of fuel," he said.

This marks the first accusation of a Ukrainian airstrike on Russian soil since Putin launched the internationally condemned invasion of the Eastern European country on February 24. Kyiv has not yet commented on the reported strike, and Newsweek has contacted Ukraine's Ministry of Defense for comment.

"Two helicopters flew low over our houses. Then I heard explosions," Elena Tishina, a resident of Belgorod, wrote on the VKontakte social network, The Moscow Times reported.

In recent days, talks between Ukraine and Russia about ending the war appeared to be making progress. Moscow had begun pulling back troops from Kyiv and Ukrainian leaders had offered potential concessions, including Ukraine committing to not join NATO and vowing to be a neutral nation. Meanwhile, Russia had appeared to reassess its military strategy after Western analysts had largely concluded that Putin's campaign to take control of Ukraine had "failed."

After six weeks of war, Russia has been unable to conquer any major Ukrainian cities. At the same time, Ukraine has appeared to be regaining some territory captured by Moscow's forces. Western reports suggest that Russia may have lost as many as 15,000 troops during the first month of conflict, although Moscow insists the number is far lower.

Even as Russian forces have pulled back and talks have appeared to proceed positively, Western and Ukrainian officials have cautioned that Putin could simply be using this as a strategy to regroup.

"This is part of [Russia's] tactics," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a late-night address on Thursday. "We know that they are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important... where it can be difficult for us," he said.

That assessment echoes what President Joe Biden and top administration officials have said as well. Biden has expressed skepticism that Russia's pullback of troops can be trusted.

"We'll see if they follow through with what they are suggesting," the president said Wednesday. "But in the meantime, we're going to continue to keep strong the sanctions and will continue to provide the Ukrainian military with the capacity to defend themselves. And we're going to continue to keep a close eye on what's going on."